Plaque and Tartar Prevention in Cats

By Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

Care & Wellness

How do plaque and tartar form, and what do they do?

Plaque is a gummy substance that forms on the teeth within a few hours after a meal. Within 24 hours, plaque begins to harden by combining with salts that are present in the saliva. As the plaque continues to accumulate and mineralize, it eventually transforms into tartar.

Tartar above and below the normal gum line   Gingivitis due to plaque on tartar

There are two ways that tartar harms the teeth and gums. First, tarter forms a rough surface so it serves as a place for bacteria to grow and multiply in the mouth. These bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), which often results in bleeding. When gingivitis worsens, it leads to periodontal disease, which leads to further inflammation, pain and tooth loss. As tartar builds up along the gum line, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth. As the gums recede, they expose the sensitive, enamel-free part of the tooth which causes pain.
 Periodontal disease due to progression of untreated gingivitis

"As tartar builds up along the gum line,it pushes the gums away from the roots
of the teeth. As the gums recede, they
expose the sensitive, enamel-free part
of the tooth which causes pain."

Second, the bacteria on the tartar can be absorbed into the blood stream and deposited in various organs, including the heart and the kidneys, causing infection.

How can I prevent plaque and tartar formation on my cat's teeth?

After your cat's teeth have been professionally cleaned and polished by your veterinarian, home dental care is needed to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. You can decrease plaque accumulation by:

  • Feeding your cat a veterinary-approved dental diet which slows tartar by mechanical or chemical means. By limiting plaque as it forms, tartar development is greatly diminished.
  • Brushing teeth (with a Q-tip) at least twice daily. This is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it turns into tartar. Dip the Q-tip end into tuna water for flavoring.

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  • Using a water additive to reduce the bacterial count in the mouth, resulting in improved breath.
  • Having your veterinarian perform a dental cleaning under general anesthesia every 6-12 months at the first sign of tartar buildup. Regular dental cleaning is as important in cats as it is in people, and it will go a long way in preventing irreversible damage to the gums and roots.
"Brushing teeth (with a Q-tip) should be done at least twice weekly."

How do I know if the product I’m using to prevent tartar is actually working?

6The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) only accepts dental products that are safe and proven to reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar based on strict scientific studies. A list of accepted products can be viewed at

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